By Lethbridge Herald on June 12, 2018.
An attempt to hold a community meeting exploring the idea of restricting needle distribution to the supervised consumption site has been blocked by council — but the community meeting will go ahead on the broader issues of the opioid crisis.
During Council’s regular meeting on Monday, a motion by Coun. Blaine Hyggen requested Council hold a Community Issues Committee meeting on the opioid crisis focusing on a discussion about syringes being “in circulation only within ARCHES Supervised Consumption Site and that needles not be permitted to leave the building.”
“It’s my belief that we do have to adhere to a harm reduction model, but I think that also takes into account the other citizens of Lethbridge, and not just those that are the addicts,” he said.
“Nothing is being done,” he later added. “It’s like, here’s this epidemic, here’s a bunch of needles and you guys give them out, and you guys deal with it.”
Coun. Rob Miyashiro said Hyggen was wrong for insisting nothing was being done.
“I think you need to understand that you’re just inflaming this whole situation by saying nothing is being done,” he said. “There’s lots being done.”
When challenged about the number of initiatives the City has been involved with regarding the opioid crisis and resulting needle debris, Hyggen acknowledged “nothing” was not the right word.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s right close to next to nothing, in my opinion,” he said.
Miyashiro then attempted to postpone a decision on the resolution, but it was defeated by Council. Council proceeded to divide the original resolution in half, with Hyggen and Joe Mauro voting against.
Council passed the motion to hold a CIC, and defeated the second motion about whether to focus on restricting the use and release of needles with Coun. Ryan Parker, Mauro, and Hyggen voting to keep the original intent of the CIC.
It is unclear whether the City has the ability to stop ARCHES from distributing clean needles, as it is not a municipal program.
In an interview late Monday night, Stacey Bourque, Executive Director for ARCHES, said the organization is operating an Alberta Health-funded program and thier mandate is to reduce the transmission of disease.
“Our directive comes from the provincial government,” she said.
Following the discussion, Mauro said Hyggen’s frustration was in line with what he has seen himself in the community.
“His resolution is bang on with what were hearing in the community,” he said.
Mauro said he is receiving around 500 messages per week from the community in regards to needle debris.
“People are frustrated.they are tired and we cant give them any answers and they want answers,” he said. “And rightfully so.”
During discussion on delaying a decision, Coun. Ryan Parker said Council was experiencing frustration because there are no clear answers and they are learning how to deal with the issue on their own.
“This is the perfect opportunity to get the people in the room who can answer all the questions, because we can’t answer all the questions,” he said.
“I understand people’s frustration, and I can empathize,” Bourque said, noting ARCHES staff are community members themselves and many have children.
She said the other side of the issue is the crisis growing out of control without a lot of help for people to access.
“I believe, instead of focusing on stopping programs that are effective in preventing disease transmission … we should be focusing on how we can encourage and advocate for the necessary services that are missing in our community.”
Coun. Jeff Carlson said Council is being blamed for the issue because of all the work it is doing to help with the issue.
“We’re being blamed for this issue because we are trying to do the best for our community.
“People just don’t know how much the City is advocating for the different services that are needed,” said Bourque. “Such as more treatment beds and medical detox, as well as intox.”
Bourque said she would be interested in being part of a CIC to help the address myths and misinformation circulating in the community.
“We care very much about the health of the community,” she said. “We also care very much about the drug using population, that’s extremely vulnerable and is looking for support services.”
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